BT has launched a u50 million pilot scheme for touch screen terminals, and met with instant criticism from insiders.
Touchpoint kiosks are multimedia terminals giving users access to constantly updated information on sport, news, weather and entertainment guides, and shopping facilities, the content for which will be provided by partners such as Threshers, British Airways, Interflora and Thomson Tour Operators.
Initially 200 of the booths will be set up at indoor sites in the South East over the next six weeks, with up to 10,000 of the kiosks going live over the next four years.
Although the much-hyped multimedia kiosks have ISDN connections, Web browsers and cost #5,000 apiece, they have no Internet access or Email capabilities. And despite having telephone handsets, they cannot even function as normal payphones.
This places severe limits on the function of the kiosks, say sources close to the project. For example, although users will be able to find information on booking flights, buying tickets and other items from the terminals, they will not be able to perform the entire transaction electronically.
Instead, users will either have to get printouts and take them to the relevant merchants, or use the telephone handset to make a free phone call to the retailer and complete the transaction.
There is no technical reason for these restrictions on the booths' functionality, which one insider described as "daft". But BT insists the terminals must remain on a private network so the company can control access to the information on it. Letting people download Internet porn from phone booths might be a PR disaster. "On a street corner scheme such as this, BT would not like to be associated with the kind of thing that can be downloaded from the Internet," said a BT spokeswoman.
The Touchpoint kiosks are made for BT by ICL. They consist of a Pentium PC with CD-ROM drive, MPEG card, sound card, a 15in touch-sensitive colour screen, a laser printer, telephone handset, credit card reader and coin slot. Each booth will have an ISDN connection to a central server, but the telephone handset will run over a standard phone line.
BT's pilot scheme follows a similar announcement in September from ITR Worldwide, which will launch a range of advanced services throughout its managed public payphone installations, in places such as airports, hotels and public buildings. However, these phone booths will have Internet access and Email facilities, faxes, flatbed scanners and video conferencing.
Electricity supplier Energis is to provide the network services for the new plan in a deal worth #45 million. The booths will be rolled out over the next five years.
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